Cinema is one of the most recent art forms, just 122 years old. The beauty of cinema is; it has borrowed much from other age-old art forms such as music, painting, theatre, literature, poetry etc, and yet it has made a distinct place for itself. Right from the early ages, humans were seeing colour and movement all around but they had no medium to express themselves. Stone carvings, cave paintings etc. were all static expressions till Peter Mark Roget presented his theory of persistence of vision in 1824 before the Royal Society of London. Scientists all over the world started working to put this theory to test and ultimately Louise and Auguste Lumiere projected the first moving images in front of an invited audience on 28th December 1895 at the Grande Café in Paris. One of the clips shown was of a railway train arriving on a platform. According to some historians, people ran out of hall upon seeing that clip. From that point onwards, cinema has not looked back. It has progressed by leaps and bounds, so much so that today one can watch a film on a mobile phone.
Unlike a novel, poem or a painting which is the work on an individual artist, filmmaking requires a creative head called director, besides actors, a big team of creative people who are addressed as technicians whose work can be seen and felt by watching the film. Let me explain how painstaking, at times frustrating and yet fascinating an art filmmaking is.
The song “Pyar Kiya toh Darna Kya” in the film “Mughal E Azam” is a visual treat, picturised in a colourful Sheesh Mahal (Glass House) in the mid-fifties. The glass was imported from Belgium, workers to put up that set were brought from Rajasthan. The tailors for costumes had come from Hyderabad. K. Asif, the director wanted to shoot on colour film, but there were no colour processing labs in India as films were shot and processed in black and white. The film colour negative speed was 25 ASA (In digital technology it is 25 ISO), which is very very slow and to shoot that scene a huge number of lights were required. Mr Asif entered into an agreement with all neighbouring studios that for three years they would not undertake any night shooting. All their lights would come to Asif’s studio at 6 PM and would be returned to them at 6 AM. The set had walls, ceilings pillars and wall on sides. Lighting and placing of the camera was the biggest problem on the set.
Technicians and cameramen from Hollywood and Germany were invited and consulted. They said it was impossible to shoot because either the glare, lights or camera would be visible in the glass. Mr R. D. Mathur who was the cameraman asked the production team to get clamps to hold reflectors. The reflector was mounted behind pillars, and lights were thrown on them and he took the shots with bounced lighting. The entire shooting was done at night for practically three years as it would take many days to light a shot, do rehearsals and then go for a take. If it was not satisfactory then a retake was taken. How frustrating is it to come for a retake next day and relight the set? But also how fascinating? It is an all-time great film and one of the most talked about scenes even today.
After the shoot, the negatives were flown to Technicolour Limited London for processing and printing. When the results came, they were superb and then Mr Asif decided to shoot the climax in colour as well. It is a landmark film in the history of Indian Cinema. There are many such examples, with the latest being ‘Padmavat’.
Teaching filmmaking is a very different cup of tea. Film school cannot teach creativity. Creativity and genius are a student’s own, and a teacher has to teach the language and grammar of film and how it is to be used in storytelling. There are lot very good filmmakers and technicians but very few of them are very good teachers. When I joined FTII after leaving the industry in 1977, I was told the same thing by my HOD, the Late K.Ramchandra Rao. He taught me never to be ‘bookish’. Simplify the explanations in easiest of terms and explain the topics by taking relevant examples from old as well as contemporary films, he said. One must go back and forth, pause the film and explain the theory behind the structure of the scene in easiest of terms rather than making them complicated.
Film narrativity has a few creative aspects: Pictorial or physical continuity, Relational or Associational continuity, Cinematic temporal and spatial aspect, Visual rhythm, Timing of cuts, and the Pacing of the film. Within these are hidden the contribution of lighting (High key/Low key), composition or framing, camera angles, costumes, colour scheme, Art Decor, Properties, Shallow space, Deep Space, Off-screen space, Staging and acting, Dialogues, Songs and Background Music, Visual and Computer graphics effects. Mr Rao once made me sit in the class with students for a semester. It was a refresher course for me as I had learnt these things fifteen years back as a student, but now it has expanded my horizon of learning significantly. When I was working in films both fiction and non-fiction we were working and integrating all these elements in our storytelling without being aware of it. The filmmaker does not go by theory in the strict sense, but theory gets written once the film is complete and then as a student we analyse it.
As a student besides Mr Ramchandra, we had the Late Sh. Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Sh. Amit Bose, Late Sh. Pran Mehra as guest faculties who were great editors of their time but equally excellent teachers. Even when I joined as a faculty in 1977, these greats continued to teach. These guest lecturers brought raw footage of some complicated scenes from their films like ‘Gumrah’, ‘Dharam Putra’, ‘Prem Patra’ ‘Khoobsoorat’ etc. Later, I also sent some scenes from my films Like ‘Abhilasha’, ‘Solho Singaar’ etc. and this cycle continues as today students of mine such as Raj Kumar Hirani, Sanjay Bhansali, Suresh Pai and Aseem Sinha are giving raw footage to students at FTII to edit. They also supervise the edits of students by conducting workshops.
Besides editing, the other departments at FTII also entertain guest faculties, such as Santosh Sivan Anil Meta, Saeed Mirza, Kumar Sahni, Bishwadeep Chatterjee Nihar Samal, Sabu Cyril, Sharmishta Mukherjee etc.
Filmmaker, Prof. and Head (Retd) Department of Film Editing, FTII, Pune.